Transitioning out of sports can throw you for a loop if you’ve spent your whole life as an athlete. Whether it is high school graduation, college graduation, or a career-ending injury, the reality is that at some point, you will retire from the sport you love. This isn’t an easy change, to be sure. For so long, your life has been tightly intertwined with your sport and the game. How do you go on without it?
The best thing you can do to ease your transition out of sports is to start early. If you can build solid relationships and passions outside of your sport, then you will be primed for success. But no matter how much you prepare, it will still be a challenge. So when it comes time to hang up the jersey, here are some things you may experience and some tips to keep you on the right track.
Struggles of Retiring From Sports
The Feeling of Team
After being a part of a tight-knit group for years, it can be difficult for graduating athletes to find a sense of community. Few things bond a group more than competing together in high-stakes situations. Without your teammates beside you to face the challenges of life, retired athletes may feel lonely or isolated.
For your athletic career, you are told when, where, and how to workout. A coach runs the workouts and practices to get you in the best shape of your life during the season. In the off-season, you take home a strict training schedule that has detailed instructions. If this is what you’re used to, it can be difficult to no longer have a workout regimen in place. You may struggle with finding ways to workout or even how to workout on your own.
A Sense of Identity
If you’ve always been an athlete, it can be difficult to suddenly no longer be known as one. For a long time, the sport you played was closely intertwined with your daily life and personal identity. Without identifying as a basketball player or a gymnast, you may struggle with feeling like you’ve lost a piece of yourself.
Structure and Routine
When you play sports at a high level, your time is heavily managed by someone other than yourself. Practice every day, weights, study hall, games, travel. Everything has a tightly scheduled itinerary; all you need to do is show up. Without sports, you may find yourself adrift with oodles of time on your hands and no idea how to spend it.
Staying in Shape
Like organized workouts, you’ve always had a workout plan and fitness expectations crafted for you around your sport. Once you graduate, those expectations and plans are no longer there to support you. It is common to struggle with weight changes, which can lead to disordered eating. Sometimes, it is no longer possible to maintain the shape you were in while an athlete, and that is a mindset that you need to explore.
If you were a student on an athletic scholarship, graduating from sports means losing your sport and your financial support. While you won’t have tuition to pay anymore, bills still accumulate, and it can be overwhelming for someone who isn’t prepared or able to step right into the job market.
How to Ease the Transition Out of Sports
To be most beneficial, it’s best to start these tips way before you leave your sport so that you have a strong foundation to build on once you retire. However, suppose you’ve recently graduated and suddenly find that you’re a little lost without your sport. In that case, you can also use these tips as a starting point for building after retirement.
Explore New Interests
Sports often leave little time for other activities. In some cases, you may have been so dedicated, there was no time to enjoy anything besides your sport. But now that you’ve moved on, it’s good to build up a new range of interests. Take a cooking class, learn a new instrument, try out a new sport or a new language. This helps keep you feeling fulfilled and helps you meet new people who share the same interests.
Cultivate Your Relationships
It can feel lonely when you’re no longer in a team environment. To help counteract this, strive to make new connections and strengthen relationships that you already have. You can achieve this by joining different groups in your community. Say hello to someone new in your class. Volunteer. Ask an old friend you haven’t seen in a while because of sports out for coffee. Call your mom. Unlike with sports, the connection won’t be mandatory, so you may need extra effort to build some new relationships.
Practice Stress Management Techniques
You may find yourself feeling upset, sad, frustrated, or stressed out by your new non-athlete life. That is normal. Change is always hard to deal with. To help manage your feelings through this transition, it can be helpful to practice stress management techniques. Try yoga, meditation, living an active lifestyle, maintaining a healthy diet, deep breathing, and positive self-talk. There are many ways to help manage your stress levels. Try a few out and see what works best for you.
Join an Organized Workout Group
This is a great option because it checks off a bunch of tips. Not only are you exploring a new interest (maybe you’re trying SoulCycle, maybe you’re in a kickboxing class, maybe you want to learn paddle-boarding), you’re meeting new people. You’re getting a workout (which helps to manage stress). This is also an excellent way to address issues that may crop up around staying in shape and not having organized workouts. It holds you accountable, you’ll get a good sweat in, and it’s fun! This is one of the best things you can do as a retired athlete.
If you have the time while you’re playing sports, try to join internships because this will help boost your resume and give you an idea of what you want to do with your future. But even if you’re a little late to the game, you can still do an internship after you graduate. This helps keep you busy, drive your career progress and make some money.
Overall, transitioning out of sports is like many other changes in life. It may be difficult at first, but it will get easier. And just because you’re retired doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy the game! Join a rec league or play pick up, maybe even coach if you’re passionate. There are many ways to stay involved with the game you love, even while you move on from it.